Abstinence Only Sex Education is Ineffective
by Susan Long

Abstinence only sex education is a byproduct of the family values movement of the 1980’s.  Activists fighting for mostly religious rights caught the attention of not only public schools but the Federal Government as well.  In turn, the government was pushed to do something about the current sex education programs (Abstinence Endangers).  Del Stover, senior editor for the American School Board Journal, points out in the article “Politics and Policy” that the family act movement continued to snowball over the next decade and forced the Bush administration to start a Federal Funding program for schools who teach only abstinence in sex education.  Surprisingly, the funding for this has reached $1 billion since 1998 (Stover 37).  Many people are hurting more than they are gaining from abstinence only education including not only the students but the teachers as well.  United States tax payers are paying for their children to be misinformed and sheltered about their bodies and their natural needs.  Although the funding from tax dollars is rapidly growing, many studies have shown that abstinence only sex education is not as effective as the politicians’ propaganda made it seem to be.  Although abstinence should be included in sex education curricula, other information and resources should be available to teens in schools.
The first problem with abstinence only education is that it prevents children from getting the necessary, accurate information they need to make educated decisions.  Many parents entrust in the school system to teach their children the information that they do not feel comfortable teaching.  The article “Abstinence-Only Sex Education Cannot Reduce Teenage Pregnancy” written by the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL) claims that along with other subjects, “schools also have a responsibility to provide accurate and comprehensive sexuality education” (Abstinence Cannot).  The NARAL is a political organization that promotes the right to choose while working to implement programs to make abortion less necessary.  They point out that many parents lack the information to educate their children about comprehensive sex education and most who do have the knowledge feel uncomfortable confronting their children (Abstinence Cannot).  Scholars agree that parents should not feel uncomfortable talking about one of the most pure, natural parts of life and those who act this way are severely hurting their children.  A study done by the NARAL pointed out that only fifty-two percent of parents with at least one adolescent ranging from the age of eight to eighteen had talked to their child about how important it is to practice safe sex.  Research has also shown that only eleven percent of teens receive their information about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) from their parents.  In fact, many parents deny the fact that their children are sexually active (Abstinence Cannot).  Teaching children that ignorance is acceptable and can be used as an excuse and as an easy way out is a lesson that hurts children just as much as teachers are hurting them with abstinence only education. 

One thing that greatly influences teenagers’ opinions and decisions is the media.  The NARAL estimates that the average teen watches twenty-one to twenty-two hours of television per week.  Studies have shown that fifty-six percent of television programs in one week will have some sexual content.  This is broken down into 1,930 sexual scenes and only four percent of these scenes have any message relating to the importance of protected and responsible sex (Abstinence Cannot).  The fact that teens can watch other teens involved in promiscuous, unprotected sex but can not learn about the consequences of this behavior is something that could have a large and unfortunately negative impact on the way adolescence view sex.  The media could also alter their knowledge of sex, contraceptives, and responsibility.  Teens should not have to learn about their anatomy from MTV’s newest reality show but be able to trust that their teachers and parents are giving them extremely accurate information.  Experts on sex education agree that children should not be sheltered and they need to be taught the complete truth about their bodies and their natural desires.
Many researchers point out that since children are being ignored at home they need to receive accurate information from some other source.  Children do a significant amount of learning at school and many believe that they should be getting the most accurate information as possible.  This cannot happen with abstinence only sex education because schools are becoming very limited with what they are allowed to teach students.  Schools who accept the government funding for abstinence only education must follow a strict curriculum that includes limiting what children can access not only in the classroom but in the school’s library and on the internet as well (Abstinence Endangers).  In the article “Abstinence-Only Sex Education Endangers Students” the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) discusses different occasions when teachers have been punished for teaching the truth.  The NCAC is an alliance of fifty national nonprofit organizations founded in 1974 that campaigns for access to information and the free interchange of ideas. The article discusses the current increase of states such as New Jersey and Utah proposing to keep close watch on their teachers in sex education programs in order to ensure that no “inappropriate language and subject matter” are discussed (Abstinence Endangers).  The taxpayers that are funding this ban on inappropriate subject matter should realize that they are also turning the human body into inappropriate matter.  One seventh-grade sex education teacher in Belton, Missouri, was suspended because a parent complained that she answered a student’s question about oral sex.  The article also shows an example of how much these actions are hurting children in Granite Bay, California.  In a health class at their high school, one student asked where his cervix was and a female student was sure that she could become pregnant from oral sex (Abstinence Endangers).  Most believe that parents should not expect teachers to lie to their children and teach them ignorance over truth.  According to the NARAL, eighty two percent of adults believe in comprehensive sex education (Abstinence Cannot).  It is interesting how the large minority of people that do not want comprehensive education have the most dramatic effect in teachers’ jobs. 

Abstinence only education and its federal funding are directly hurting the students not only by limiting their knowledge of sex but by holding back their creative abilities.  Students in Orlando, Florida, made a videotape called “Condom Man and his K-Y Commandos” to educate their peers about the dangers of AIDS and how to prevent transmission.  When this video was shown in school, the teacher was suspended and the students were reprimanded.  In Santa Clarita, California, a student wrote an article entitled “Sex: Raw and Uncensored” and without even reading the article, the school’s principle would not allow it to be printed simply because of the title.  Everyone later found out that the article was about the benefits of abstinence and the author was simply cleaver enough to come up with a catchy title (Abstinence Endangers).  These examples have shown that abstinence only education is limiting student’s abilities to express their ideas and opinions.  Students should not be punished for having innovative ideas and being excited about learning.  Many organizations have noted that things like this happen all around the country and they agree that something needs to be done to stop ignorance in America’s youth. 
According to NCAC, schools in Franklin County, North Carolina, would not approve a health text book until three chapters were eliminated because the book discussed AIDS.  There was also an instance in Lynchburg, Virginia, where the school board would not approve a high school textbook unless an illustration of a vagina was cut out (Abstinence Endangers).  Schools continue to ignore this vital issue despite the fact that many organizations agree it is causing children to be less knowledgeable of their own bodies and what could potentially happen to them.  Scholars point out that schools have become so politically driven that they are wiling to sacrifice quality and content in other subjects in order to cater to abstinence only education.  Many suggest that instead of cutting up books, the Federal government should use its funding to provide books for schools that can not afford them.  Scholars concur that if students were taught with comprehensive sex education then they would be more knowledgeable about their bodies.  They would also be able to make more accurate and educated decisions in real life situations.
Many researchers have suggested that the main reason abstinence only education should not be enforced is that it simply does not work.  Those who believe in this method feel that the comprehensive approach will encourage teens to have sex at an earlier age.   During a debate over comprehensive sex education, Stover quotes a pro abstinence only speaker saying, “You are challenging our children to give up on virginity” (qtd. in Stover 36).  Despite what many believe, the NARAL quotes a study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that proved sexuality education “does not cause adolescents to initiate sex when they would not otherwise have done so” (qtd. in Abstinence Cannot).  Many point out that it is contradicting that the government, who is issuing billions of dollars every year for abstinence only education, is admitting that comprehensive sex education does no harm.  In a news report from CNN, Lawrence Finer, research director at the Guttmacher Institute, discusses their latest study.  As the author of the study, Finer explains that “Premarital sex is normal behavior for the vast majority of Americans, and has been so for decades” (qtd. in Reality).  According to Finer, ninety-five percent of the 38,000 people studied had sex before they were married (Reality).  Many people believe that these statistics are new developments and teens these days are a lot more open and more willing to experiment with their sexuality.  Finer proves this to be false because ninety-one percent of women born between 1950 and 1978 had premarital sex and eighty-eight percent of women born in the 1940’s did the same (Reality).  Researchers warn that students should be aware that the people telling them to abstain from sex until marriage did not do so themselves.

The NARAL also points out that more than half of teens in the United States ages fifteen to nineteen have had sexual intercourse.  They also point out that the percentage of girls younger than fifteen having sex has risen from eleven percent in 1988 to nineteen percent in 1995 and is continuing to grow (Abstinence).  These statistics suggest that the government funding for abstinence only education is really not worth spending.  Finer suggests, “it would be more effective to provide young people with the skills and information they need to be safe once they become sexually active – which nearly everyone eventually will” (qtd. in Reality).  Statistics have proven that the vast majority of people have sex before they are married and schools should take initiative and educate their students on the responsibility of safe sex.
There are so many statistics and studies available to prove that abstinence only education is ineffective and not only teachers and students but entire schools are hurting from it.  Children should not have to suffer from adults’ insecurities and political and religious fights.  Despite information from research performed by people and organizations such as Lawrence Finer, the percentages of schools teaching abstinence only education is increasing.  According to Family Planning Perspectives, only two percent of schools in 1988 taught abstinence only education and twenty-three percent of schools taught it in 1999 (Abstinence Endangers).  There is a positive correlation between the number of schools teaching abstinence education and the increase in younger teens having sex.  This shows abstinence only education is not working and this hindering teaching method is pushing teachers to hold back necessary information.  It is causing children to become more sheltered and ignorant instead of informed and in turn they hurting their most important asset, their bodies.

Works Cited

"Abstinence-Only Sex Education Cannot Reduce Teenage Pregnancy." 24 Feb          1999: Opposing Viewpoints. Johnson and Wales Univ. Lib., Charlotte. 11                 Dec 2006.
"Abstinence-Only Sex Education Endangers Students." 2 June 2001: Opposing              Viewpoints. Johnson and Wales Univ. Lib., Charlotte. 11 Dec 2006.
Figure 1  http://ucdavismagazine.ucdavis.edu/issues/su03/graphics/Sex.jpg
Figure 2  http://www.cartoonstock.com/lowres/cza0783l.jpg
Figure 3  http://i12.photobucket.com/albums/a229/dhonig2/Abstinence800.jpg
"Reality Check: 95 Percent of Americans had Premarital Sex." CNN. 19 12 2006.            20 Dec 2006 <http://www.cnn.com/2006/HEALTH/12/19/premarital.sex.ap/index.html>.
Stover, Del. "Politics and Policy." American School Board Journal Nov 2006: 36-             39. Academic Search Premier. EbscoHost. Johnson and Wales Univ. Lib.,              Charlotte. 11 Dec 2006.

Fig. 3:  This cartoon confirms that students should not be taught abstinence only education.  Many of these people have children regardless and some of them look very upset.  If they were taught comprehensive sex education they would have been taught how to prevent pregnancies and would possibly be much happier.
Fig. 2:  This political cartoon implies that abstinence only sex education is bringing children back in time. Like the cavewomen, some teens these days don’t even know about their bodies and what causes them to get pregnant
Fig. 1: This drawing shows that both the parents and the teens want to talk about sex.  Teens have many questions and parents can provide the answers.  There seems to be tension between the two but if they simply talked then they would both feel better.